I finally did it! I've been wanting to do it for years. What is it you ask? Cocaine, crystal meth? Not. French cooking classes? No. Hire a hooker? Can't afford it. Wrestle an alligator? Not likely. I got a tattoo. Four, actually, much to the chagrin of the women in this house who think I'm nuts anyway, just trying to draw attention to myself, too old, too much, too expensive.
I celebrate my birthday this month, and this is my present. It's body art, a permanent statement, and in my case, a tribute to all the people and places and pastimes that have touched my life.
This wasn't a compulsive act, not one of those I-got-drunk-in-Hawaii-and-bought-a-tattoo scenarios. I put some thought into this.
Little did I know that it could become addictive, this skin art. You get one, you want more.
Tattooing has come a long way since Captain Cook sailed to Tahiti and New Zealand in the late 18th century, saw what the Polynesians were doing to their bodies, and brought tattooing back to England and Europe.
Tattoos had been around for centuries in Asia and China and Africa and back as far as Roman times when gladiators and soldiers and slaves were tattooed for identification purposes, to signify rank and status. Elsewhere, "tats" represented a rite of passage or religious devotion, a symbol of fertility, a sexual lure, a pledge of love ("Mom"), punishment, protection, a way to identify outcasts and criminals.
In Cook's London, it was the lower class and criminals that got "inked," until late in the century when it caught on with the upper classes, including royalty. King George III was said to have had his "Cookie" tattooed on his arm, in honour of the famous captain.
Much the same thing happened 100 years later, in the 1970s when tattoos started to become a "mainstream part of western fashion in North sexes and all economic and social groups and age groups began to frequent tattoo parlours.
"What was once a form of deviant behaviour now became an acceptable form of expression" (ibid). The type of people displaying tattoos before this time - prisoners with their homemade, "I served time" tats and bikers with ink designating their affiliation - were not the type you wanted your daughter to marry.
Now it is a rare wedding where someone isn't sporting a tattoo at the reception, once jackets are removed and sleeves rolled up and the bartender makes an appearance.
Fourteen per cent of the adults in the United States bear tattoos; in my age group, eight per cent, according to one study. Men are more likely to get tattooed, but it is the presence of women in the industry, both as artists and clients that is changing the negative perception of the tattoo from a badge of the bad boy and bad girl to a "search for the self" among people feeling more and more alienated by these high tech times.
The butterfly on the ankle of young women, the whale's tale on the lower back no longer speak to cheap thrills and an aberrant lifestyle, they just say "this is part of who I am." It's like wearing makeup, a cosmetic tat is a permanent form of makeup to enhance facial features, to hide scars and skin disorders. When I had prostate cancer, small marks were tattooed at the spots where the radiation was to be administered.
We've come a long way, baby, from anchors and skulls with crossbones, from Tasmanian devils and snakes and hearts bearing the girlfriend's name. We're cool. Art galleries hold exhibitions of tattoo designs.
There are entire TV shows devoted to tattooing, including one called Tattoo Nightmares featuring what happens when your visually impaired boyfriend expresses his love on your back with his buddy's tattoo kit.
@ Copyright 2013